How Thailand Community in Nigeria Celebrated Songkran 2568

From April 13th- 15th each year, Thais all over the world commemorate the end of one year and the beginning of another. This year, for the fourth time, the Thai community in Nigeria joined in this celebration going on in their home country. Esther Oluku writes that this celebration marks the beginning of the year 2568 for Thais all over the world.

That afternoon, it seemed like the suffocating heat had given way to a cool almost gaiety atmosphere on Gafaru Animashaun Street of Victoria Island, Lagos. A peep into the street was greeted by an array of bright colours of red, blue, green, yellow, pink, and lemon amongst other colours of mini flags hanging from ropes hung across the street.

There were large parasols of lemon, yellow, white, pink and purple colours, garlands with beads hanging on a pole for participants with floating lights hanging on the veranda of Orchid House Thai Restaurant from where the celebration poured into the street. The event which sparked such festivity is the Songkran festival translated in English as the Thailand New Year festival.

Dozens of water drums lined a part of the street on one side and an array of dishes lined the street on the other side. Our cheerful Thai hostess, Madam Tukie, was seen handing water guns to participants in preparation for the commencement of the event and placing beaded garlands on the necks of participants.

The Songkran is the biggest celebration of the year in Thailand and although immigrants in Nigeria, Thais trooped in in their numbers. They seemed not to have lost touch with home as each one was seen greeting the other in the traditional way of clasping the hands in a prayer-like demeanour with their head slightly bowed.

The Songkran in Thailand

Traditionally, the Songkran festivities last for three days and are a celebration of the religious ritual and cultural heritage of the Thailand people.

The first day of the ritual, April 13th, is used to pay obeisance to Buddha the founder of Buddhism and the religion of the Thailand people, for the blessing of seeing the final moments of the old year. In Thailand, this day is spent in visits to the temple to worship.

The second day of the Songkran, April 14th, is the eve of the new year and is devoted to honouring the aged. The activity which marks this event is the gentle pouring of water over the hands of older people who then go on to bless the younger generation.

The third day of the event, which marks the beginning of the new year, is marked by participants blessing each other exemplified by pouring water gently on people as a sign of cleansing from the troubles and challenges of the previous year in the hope of beginning the new year afresh and free from the challenges of the previous year.

In recent times however, the water pouring ritual has been modernised into a water fight which brings out the fun and playful aspect of humans forcing participants to relax, enjoy the ‘water fight’ and be happy.

The new year is also marked with the coming together of Thai families to bond, party to folk music, singing, dance, sharing of art, food and oral tradition. Tourists from around the world visit Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, each year to witness the event for themselves.

For the immigrant Thailand community in Nigeria, the celebration was held on April 13th which marked the beginning of the Songkran festivities.

Colours and Symbols as a Celebration of Thailand Cultural Heritage

Colours and Symbols play an important aspect in the Songkran celebration. Unlike nations who use several methods of aggregating the passage of time, the Songkran celebration is linked to the passage of the movement of the sun to the Aries which in the Zodiac is the beginning of the spherical movement of the sun around the earth.

This alignment with the Solar system through the adoption of the Lunisolar Buddhist calendar is a symbolic alignment to a pearl of higher wisdom in directing the path of the Thailand nation.

Also, Thai participants at the event wore floral print clothes symbolic of spring and the coming of the rainy seasons after the almost unbearable heat of the hottest season and the end of the year 2567.

The water, which is a major feature of the event, is symbolic of the washing away of everything unclean and unwanted and a purification for the new season.

The bright colours of the parasols, the flags and the floating lights are also motifs of the expectations of resplendent goodwill which the participants hope to enter into in the new year.

Other aspects of the Songkran festival such as the dancers, the songs and the food represent a celebration of the rich depths of Thailand culture and are a means of both folk learning and cultural exchange and a deepening of Thailand’s cultural heritage.

UNESCO view of Songkran as a means of deepening Thailand’s cultural heritage

The United Nations Educational and Scientific Organisation (UNESCO) has recognised the Songkran as a cultural way by which the Thailand nation celebrates the transition into a new year and recognises the celebration as a way of deepening cultural awareness in the younger generation and inspiring cultural preservation.

Thai Community in Nigeria Collaborates with Orchid House Thai Restaurant CEO

The event was put together by a collaboration between the Thai Community in Nigeria and the Chief Executive Officer, of Orchid House Thai Restaurant, Ms. Nattanee Booncharoen, popularly known as Madam Tukie.

This event is commemorated by Thai nationals all over the world through the convergence of Thai families to bond, share companionship, food, and music and culminate in a water fight. This Songkran would usher the Thai nation into the year 2568.

According to a member of the Thailand Community in Nigeria Coordinating Committee, Mr. Nawapad Wichitchan, the Thailand nation utilises the Buddhist Era calendar in calculating the year and the Songkran is an avenue for Thai families to bond and build stronger family ties.

“The Songkran, the Thai new year, is marked by the coming together of Thai families to celebrate the new year. This is the hottest day in the year in Thailand so the water fight while cooling the temperature signifies the passing of the hot season and the transition to the rainy season.”

Another member of the Coordinating Committee, Ms. Nayufa Dangprasittiforn, explained that as immigrants in Nigeria, the festival is an opportunity for cultural exchange. She added that yearly, the invitation is thrown open to other nationals to participate.

“It is an event in Thailand and UNESCO recognises it as an avenue for cultural exchange. Thai nationals need to celebrate this even if they are far from home and we have a big Thai community in Lagos. People from other nations can participate, enjoy the food, the water fight and give a blessing to each other.”

She said that while the most exciting part of the Songkran is the water fight which has been modernised from its original state, the significance of the ritual as an avenue for blessing loved ones remains.

“Originally we just poured the water on older people softly to give a wish or a blessing. That is the traditional way but it has been developed into a water fight,” she said.

On her part, Ms. Nattanee Booncharoen expressed optimism for future events and stated that in the coming years, she hopes the celebration will be bigger and better.

“In the future, we want to turn this street to these colours (Thai colours) with every restaurant attracted here to join us to make it bigger in the future, coming up maybe next year or two years, all this street will be full of people. That is what we are planning. This year, we want to make people see what we are doing and what we can do.

Giving more insight into the significance of the water fight, she said: “The water washes away the bad luck for last year and makes you come free for the new year. It is like a culture where you pour water on your people with similar meanings like that. But this one we did for long, long years back in Thailand.”

She added that the committee also hopes that the festival achieves its purpose of not just being an annual event but becoming an avenue for cultural exchange for Nigerians and people from other nationalities.

“What we want to do is to hold the Songkran Water Festival in Nigeria also but, when the people we have invited come, we will showcase the food to let them taste our original Thai food on the ground here in Nigeria.

“We will be there to make fun and in-between the events we have our traditional people come to attend and mix. That is why Songkran is really beautiful.”

Speaking with a Nigerian participant at the event, Mr. James Emoka, he stated that the festival is an opportunity to take a break from life’s realities.

“I love to play with water guns. I’m a kid at heart. Though I’ve known about the Songkran it’s my first time coming. It’s exciting, mind-rejuvenating and quite refreshing. It’s very good to just help you forget what you are going through in life, you know how sometimes life can be rocky.”

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